This Week in Petroleum History, September 23 to September 29
September 23, 1918 – Giant Wood River Refinery goes Online
Roxana Petroleum Company’s new Wood River (Illinois) facility began refining crude oil. It processed more than two million barrels of oil from Oklahoma oilfields in its first year of operation.
Roxana Petroleum Company was the 1912 creation of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, which founded the American Gasoline Company in Seattle to distribute gas on the West Coast. Roxana Petroleum was established in Oklahoma to produce the state’s high quality oil to be refined at the Wood River plant.
September 23, 1933 – Standard Oil of California Geologists visit Saudi Arabia
Invited by Saudi Arabian King Abdel Aziz, geologists from Standard Oil Company of California arrived at the Port of Jubail in the Persian Gulf. Searching the desert for petroleum and “kindred bituminous matter,” they discovered a giant oilfield. This early partnership between Saudi Arabia and Standard Oil became known as the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco), later joined by Texaco and other major U.S. companies.
September 23, 1947 – New Patent for “Hortonspheres”
The Chicago Bridge & Iron Company (CB&I) received a patent for improvements to a spherical storage vessel invented by the company’s founder in the 1920s. Designed to store natural gas, butane, propane and other volatile petroleum products, the efficient sphere was among the most important storage innovations to come to the U.S. petroleum industry.
First erected in 1923, CB&I named the “Hortonspheres” after engineer Horace E. Horton, who had started the company in 1889 to build bridges across the Mississippi River. The company built its first elevated water tank in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1892.
“The elevated steel plate tank was the first built with a full hemispherical bottom, one of the company’s first technical innovations,” notes a CB&I historian. In 1923 at Port Arthur, Texas, the company (which merged into McDermott International in May 2018) built “the world’s first field-erected spherical pressure vessel.” Learn more in Horace Horton’s Spheres.
September 24, 1951 – Perforating Wells with Bazooka Technology
Call it a “downhole bazooka.” In 1951, war veteran Henry Mohaupt applied to patent his “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun.” He brought a key World War II anti-tank technology to the petroleum industry.
Mohaupt had been in charge of a secret U.S. Army program to develop an anti-tank weapon. His idea of using a conically hollowed out explosive charge to direct and focus detonation energy ultimately produced a rocket grenade used in the bazooka.
After the war, the potential of these downhole rocket grenades to facilitate flow from oil-bearing strata was recognized by the Well Explosives Company of Fort Worth, Texas. The company employed Mohaupt to develop new technologies for safely perforating cement casing and pipe. Learn more in Downhole Bazooka.
September 25, 1922 – First New Mexico Oil Well
Midwest Refining Company launched the New Mexico petroleum industry by completing the state’s first commercial oil well on the Navajo Indian Reservation.
Drilled near Shiprock, the Hogback No. 1 well produced 375 barrels of oil per day. Following the discovery, Midwest successfully completed 11 more wells to establish the Hogback oilfield as a major producer of the San Juan Basin. Two years later, a pipeline was built to Farmington and the field’s oil shipped by rail to Salt Lake City, Utah, for refining.
Production from the prolific Hogback oilfield encouraged further exploration in New Mexico, which led to discoveries in 1928 that brought prosperity to Lea County and the town of Hobbs. Learn more about this exploration and production history in First New Mexico Oil Wells.
September 26, 1876 – First California Oil Well
Although Charles Mentry’s California Star Oil Works Company drilled three wells that showed promise, his first gusher arrived with the Pico No. 4 well in September 1876. Drilling with a cable-tool rig powered by steam in an area known for its oil seeps, the well revealed the Pico Canyon oilfield north of Los Angeles. It was California’s first commercial oil well.
The Star Oil Works well, which initially produced 25 barrels per day from 370 feet, led to construction of the state’s first oil pipeline and first commercially successful oil refinery for making kerosene, axle grease and other lubricants. Stills set on brick foundations had a refining capacity of 150 barrels of oil a day.
Today’s Chevron, once the Standard Oil Company of California, can trace its beginning to the 1876 Pico Canyon oil discovery and the California Star Oil Works Company.
September 26, 1933 – King Ranch Lease sets Record
Despite the reservations of Humble Oil and Refining Company President W.S. Parrish, geologist Wallace Pratt convinced the company to lease the million-acre King Ranch in Texas for almost $128,000 per year (plus a one-eighth royalty on any discovered oil).
The September 1933 petroleum lease deal was the largest oil lease contract ever negotiated in the United States. Humble Oil and Refining, a Houston company founded in 1917, had drilled the King Ranch’s early “dusters.”
Subsequent leases from nearby ranches gave Humble Oil & Refining nearly two million acres of mineral rights between Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande River. By 1947, Humble would be operating 390 producing oil wells on the King Ranch lease. ExxonMobil has regularly extended the Humble oil and natural gas lease agreement in effect since 1933. Learn more in Oil Reigns at King Ranch.
September 26, 1943 – First Florida Oil Well
The Humble Oil Company completed Florida’s first commercially successful oil well on September 26, 1943 – the Sunniland No. 1 – near a watering stop on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.
Humble Oil spent $1 million drilling to a depth of about 11,600 feet to complete the discovery well, located 12 miles south of Immokalee, near Big Cypress Preserve and the city of Naples.
Florida’s petroleum had eluded hundreds of wildcatters since 1901. By 1939, almost 80 dry holes had been drilled. Florida legislators – desperate for their state to become an oil producer and benefit from the tax revenue – offered a $50,000 bounty for the first oil discovery. Revealing the Sunniland oilfield brought more drilling, and by 1954 the field was producing 500,000 barrels of oil per year from 11 wells.
Texas-based Humble Oil accepted the $50,000 prize offered by the state legislature, added $10,000 – and donated the $60,000 equally between the University of Florida and the Florida State College for Women. Humble later became ExxonMobil. Learn more in First Florida Oil Well.
September 26, 1962 – TV Show begins with Very Shallow Oil Discovery
CBS aired the first episode of the Beverly Hillbillies, “The Clampetts Strike Oil,” where poor mountaineer Jed Clampett was informed by the O.K. Oil Company of Tulsa that he owned an oil-rich swamp. Paid $25 million, the Clampett family moved to Beverly Hills. The show ranked no. 1 in the Nelson ratings for the next two years and in the top 20 of most-watched TV programs for eight of its nine seasons.
September 27, 1915 – Deadly Explosion in Oklahoma
At 2:20 p.m., a railroad car carrying casinghead gasoline exploded in Ardmore, Oklahoma, killing 43 people and injuring many others. The car, which had arrived the day before, was waiting to be taken to a nearby refinery. Casinghead gasoline (also called natural gasoline) at the time was integral to the state’s petroleum development, with 40 processing plants in operation.
According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the disaster began when rising afternoon temperatures activated a valve to release the car’s gas pressure. “The Ardmore Refining Company then sent a representative, who removed the dome from the top of the car, filling the air with gas and vapors.”
Triggered by an unidentified source, the explosion destroyed much of downtown Ardmore. The Atchinson, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway was found responsible for the explosion and paid 1,700 claims totaling $1.25 million, the society reports, adding that “oil companies changed and improved the extraction and transportation methods for natural gasoline.”
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